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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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John Blanchette: Plenty of reasons to be optimistic in loss

PULLMAN – Mike Leach dipped into his stash last week and proclaimed home games at Martin Stadium were the time of man, if not the time of sellouts.

“It would probably be on a scale with Woodstock, I would say, as far as being a historic event where event where people gather,” Leach said, though he could barely be understood with his tongue kicked wide right into his cheek. “It’s kind of a statement for our generation, I think.”

So then the question remained:

When Stanford came to town Saturday night, would we get the Woodstock of Sly Stone? Would we get Alvin Lee raging on “I’m Goin’ Home?” Would we get Jimi and the anthem?

Or would we get Melanie? The Grateful Dead overloading the amps? Or, ugh, Mountain?

Turns out we got both.

The Cougs were Alvin, the Cardinal were Jimi and the Pac-12’s striped finest were the brown acid Chip Monck the Woodstock announcer kept warning everybody about.

OK, that Washington State saw a last-second 43-yard field goal attempt by Erik Powell — who had drilled five of them earlier — hook wide right in a 30-28 loss was a bummer for Cougar Aquarians and Millennials alike, too.

And really, it was no Woodstock.

Hell of a football game, though.

Whatever the Cougars proved in the three-game roll through Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona, they had an opportunity for a more definitive statement against the eighth-ranked Cardinal.

How definitive? Consider that an unranked Cougar team hadn’t beaten a Top 10 opponent since the Snow Bowl delight of 1992.

But then, ranked teams of any kind have been pretty much untouchable for WSU. The Cougs were 1 of their last 35 against such animals.

So here was the statement: outgaining the Cardinal 442-312, 26 first downs to 15, a WSU-record tying night for Powell, generally neutralizing – though hardly shutting down – Stanford’s splendid Christian McCaffrey. Outside of the Cardinal’s pratfall in their opener at Northwestern, no one has made them sweat it out like this.

Problem is, only the scoreboard is truly definitive.

“All this moral victory stuff – no,” Leach groused on the radio afterward. “We should have won.”

This has been Leach’s message even in the early days when a moral victory is the best the Cougars could expect – though there is on occasion a conceit to that chafes, especially if there is an air of larceny. There could be some of that in the rewind the next few days, thanks to a critical play late in the third quarter when WSU defensive end Ivan McClellan appeared to have stripped McCaffrey of the ball but the referees ruled the play out of bounds – and were not dissuaded by replay from which pretty much everyone else concluded otherwise.

The Cougars led 22-10 at this point, but almost immediately the wheels came off. The defense did hold Stanford to a field goal, but then came a three-and-out, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan’s 59-yard sprint for a touchdown, a Luke Falk interception and Stanford’s go-ahead score.

“I don’t think it affected the momentum at all,” insisted WSU nickel Parker Henry. “We just went out and played the next play.”

OK, but not very well – and that suggests momentum was very much affected.

Still, the Cougars rallied to retake the lead and force a Stanford punt, only to see Falk picked again – and again by Quenton Meeks, who jumped a bubble screen and set up the winning field goal.

“It was out of my hand before I knew it,” Falk sighed.

The final miss by Powell made him a bit of a tragic figure, but the fact is the Cougars likely lost this game in the fact that he was called upon to make five earlier – three of them on trips inside the Stanford 12-yard line.

“We didn’t execute as well and didn’t protect as well as we should have,” Leach said. “We should have scored touchdowns in the red zone.”

But it’s also indisputable that the Cougars gave Stanford fits with their quickness on both sides of the ball, and in particular with their lateral speed on defense. Eventually, the Cardinal figured out a way to use it against them.

And that was turning Hogan loose on the option. In the first half, it appeared the Cougars had a great plan: make the senior quarterback beat them, because he didn’t appear up to it. He’d thrown for just 56 yards and been sacked four times.

Turns out he was very much up to it. He ran for 138 yards after halftime.

But in the space of a month, the Cougars have proved they’re up to it, too – something no one saw on Labor Day. They may have been just short on this night, but there’s another month to achieve great things.

They’re just not stardust or golden – not quite yet.

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